from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 32
March 22, 2007

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In what is being characterized by subordinates as an act of "managerial dementia," the Director of the Congressional Research Service this week prohibited all public distribution of CRS products without prior approval from senior agency officials.

"I have concluded that prior approval should now be required at the division or office level before products are distributed to members of the public," wrote CRS Director Daniel P. Mullohan in a memo to all CRS staff. "This policy is effective immediately."

While CRS has long refused (with Congressional concurrence) to make its electronic database of reports available to the public online, it has still been possible for members of the press, other researchers, and other government officials to request specific reports from the congressional support agency.

But now, "to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals," Director Mullohan wrote.

The new policy demonstrates that "this is an organization in freefall," according to one CRS analyst. "We are now indeed working for Captain Queeg."

"We're all sort of shaking," another CRS staffer told Secrecy News. "I can't do my work."

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't talk to someone in another agency, another organization, or someone else outside of Congress and we share information," the staffer said. "Now I can't do that?"

A copy of the March 20 memorandum from Director Mullohan, entitled "Distribution of CRS Products to Non-Congressionals," was obtained by Secrecy News and is available here:

It was also reported by Elizabeth Williamson in the Washington Post today.

None of the CRS personnel contacted by Secrecy News was able to explain exactly what prompted CRS Director Mulhollan to issue the policy memorandum this week.

While other parts of government strive to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to information sharing, the new CRS policy may be seen as an experiment in what happens when barriers to information sharing are arbitrarily increased. It probably won't be good.

With some frequency, CRS analysts contact FAS with requests for information or documents. (A recent CRS report on Chinese naval modernization (pdf) reprinted a large excerpt of an analysis of Chinese submarine patrols by FAS analyst Hans Kristensen.) We haven't been shy about requesting information or documents in return. And both sides seem to have benefitted.

"More important, Congress has benefitted," a staffer said. But now such working relationships may be jeopardized.


Beginning in the mid-1950s, the U.S. Army conducted research involving thousands of human subjects on various chemical agents, including LSD, BZ and marijuana derivatives, to assess their utility for chemical warfare applications.

Now one of the leading participants in that enterprise, Dr. James S. Ketchum, has published a memoir entitled "Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten."

"It is a detailed autobiographical reconstruction of the Edgewood Arsenal program of evaluating possible incapacitating agents in human volunteers (enlisted men) during the 1960s," he told Secrecy News. "It reveals facts buried in restricted archives for many years and includes a voluminous appendix of research data acquired, much of which has not previously been released to the public."

The self-published volume is a candid, not entirely flattering, sometimes morbidly amusing account of a little-documented aspect of Army research.

"I had early misgivings that my [manuscript] might raise some red flags in [the Army] Security Office, but was pleasantly surprised when none appeared," he writes.

Among other things, Dr. Ketchum co-authored the chapter on incapacitating agents in the CBW volume of Textbook of Military Medicine.

"Definitely someone to take seriously," a colleague of Secrecy News wrote. "Although I expect to disagree with much of his opinion, the historical information will be very useful, much of it not available elsewhere."

Further background and book order information is available here:


"Classified research constitutes a much smaller portion of the U.S. biodefense program than many might suspect," according to Gerald L. Epstein, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Nevertheless, classified DHS biodefense research will constitute one of the most controversial parts of the U.S. biodefense program," he observed in Congressional testimony earlier this month.

"Even more so than in other areas of science, the biological sciences have enjoyed a tradition of openness and international collaboration--and this heavy presumption of openness should continue. Since disease continues to kill millions of people around the world each year, any restrictions on relevant scientific knowledge could have serious consequences," he told a House Science Subcommittee.

"Yet the existence of hostile, witting adversaries that are determined to wreak devastation and that are known to be interested in biological weapons mandates that this openness not be absolute."

In March 8 testimony, Dr. Epstein presented his views on how to reconcile these conflicting imperatives. See (at pp. 6-8):


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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